First Time Goat Owner? Be Prepared: Get the Facts, Part 1

Reader Contribution by Susan Tipton-Fox
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We’ve had a lot of interest and questions, about our goats, from our farm visitors. We developed a workshop we called “Goats 101” to help answer some of those questions.

Here are some questions AND answers from our workshop:

Where Do I Start With Buying a Goat?

First, you want to decide WHY you would like a goat. There are several different reasons and you may have more than one reason for wanting one. So, there are different things to consider.

  1. Do you just want a pet?
  2. Would you like to start some business…if so, what type of business?
  3. Would you like to just have fresh milk for the home and maybe be able to make your own butter, cheese, etc.
  4. Do you want “meat” goats? Either for food for yourself or to sell?
  5. Are you interested in “fiber” goats?
  6. Do you just want to clear land?

After you think about the WHY you can start focusing on what breed or breeds would be best suited to those needs. Some people just go on “I like the look of that one so, I’ll get it” sort of like how you choose a dog or cat. That’s ok too after all this is your decision.

Goat Breeds

There are many different breeds of goats and there are people who are cross-breeding for dual purpose goats or just for a unique look. Sometimes this can be good and sometimes not so good. Some of the most common breeds for our area are:

Nubian or Nubian mix

These goats are originally from a hot climate (Africa/India) so, they really don’t like cold weather and need sufficient shelter for winter. They have long ears and a characteristic Roman face. These goats are considered “Dairy” goats. They produce good quantities of milk and it’s high in butterfat making it good for making cheese. For the most part these are gentle goats. When Nubians are crossed with a Boer goat the offspring will most often be more “stocky” or “meaty” and may be pushy towards their pasture mates. When mixed the ears may still be pendulus like the Nubian but, also have tendencies to “airplane” out which can give them a “cute” appearance. Nubian/Nubian mix make good pets and are good “weedeaters”. Most any breed of goat is a good “weedeater”!


These are considered mostly “meat” goats but, are also being used in clearing land. These goats are very stocky or meaty. If being raised as a food product they are usually sold at a young age. Boers have a tendency to be more susceptible to parasites.


These are considered a “Dairy” goat. The butterfat is just a little less than the Nubian but, they produce larger quantities. These are very loving and gentle goats. These goats are from the Alps so, the cold weather doesn’t bother them as much but, they still need sufficient winter shelter. All goats dislike rain!!

French Alpine

These are medium sized goats. These are good milk producers with good butterfat. These goats tend to need less maintenance and be healthier. They don’t tend to need hoof trimming as much. The main drawback with these is, if you plan on milking, these goats are very low to the ground and milking is not easy if done by hand. Milkers are fine.

Swiss Alpine now known as Oberhassli

These are a larger version of the French Alpine.

Toggenburg or Toggs

Similar in looks to Oberhassli. Milk production good a little less than Alpine.

La Mancha

These are the goats with no ears. Good milk producer.

Small or Dwarf Breeds

Nigerian Dwarf are becoming a well liked goat among dairies and creameries. These goats are small but tend to be large milk producers. So you could feed/house 3 where it would take the same for 1 of the larger goats. Drawback…very hard to milk unless you have a milker set-up.

Pygmy goats are good for pets. Make sure fencing is sufficient because they are notorious for finding a way out!

Another new name on the market is Kiko…these were first considered a “meat” goat and now more people are using them as dual purpose.

For Fiber: The most well-known is the Mohair goat. These have to be well-maintained and groomed because of their fiber use.

Know Your Goat

**Note** Never stake a goat! This is cruel. Goats are “Browsers” not grazers although they will eat green grass, weeds and herbs. They much prefer shrubs and trees. They amble along eating and then, stopping to rest and chew their “cud”. Goats are Caprine whereas Cattle are Bovine and Horses are Equine. Goats are considered Ruminants because of their digestive habits…they have four stomach chambers. This is why they chew their “cud”…this is regurgitation of foods eaten, chewed again and then, swallowed back down to travel into the third stomach. The goat needs good roughage to keep the rumen working correctly. If a goat gets very sick and stops eating there is a chance that they loose this “cud” and imbalances their digestion and they can die if something is not done. Sometimes if they have no “cud” (this is needed to help keep fermentation and digestion stable in the rumen) you can actually remove some of the cud from another goat to help the sick goat. But if a goat is this sick a vet needs to be notified so that you can make sure there are no other illnesses affecting the goat.

Goat Needs

Goats need pasture to roam and browse. They can be kept in small areas if all their needs are met. They must have a grain ration (12-16%) and hay. There needs to be a mineral supplement where the goats can access it when they need it. Keep from the rain because they will “melt” away. They need fresh water daily or access to running water from a natural stream. You need to have the number to a vet for easy access if your goat gets sick or is injured. You need to keep blood-stop on hand. If the goat gets diarrhea, which they often do in Spring just because of eating too much green foliage, you will need to supplement with an electrolyte. If a goat goes more that 2 days with diarrhea and stops eating contact a vet.

One of the best ways to feed the goats their ration is by using “over the fence” feeders. You can pre-measure their feed and take it to them and then, collect the pan after they have eaten. This keeps their feeders cleaner and the plastic is easier to wash. If you have several young goats you can purchase a multi-feeder that has separations that will feed about 5 young goats at a time. Feeding amounts should be determined by the needs of the particular goat. Anywhere from 1/2lb. per feeding for younger to 1lb. per feeding for pregnant/lactating doe. Breeder bucks also need more feed during the breeding season. Feeding should be done 2x daily…morning and evening.

Check out Part II where we will discuss Housing, Health/Maintenance, Milking and much more!

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that have been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting “workshop stays” on the farm (extending the farm experience).

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